Saturday, August 18, 2007

Watson Brake
Oldest pyramidal complex in North America

The dates of Mississippian or "moundbuilding" culture seem to be getting pushed back further in time. While Poverty Point was previously considered the oldest "mound" site in North America, that distinguished honor now apparently belongs to Watson Brake, discovered about 30 years ago, also in Louisiana, near Monroe. While Poverty Point dates back to about 1500 BC, Watson Brake apparently dates back to about 3400 BC. Watson Brake is a collection of 11 pyramidal mounds arranged into a large oval apparently surrounding a large central plaza.

Watson Brake mound site

Unlike Poverty Point, as yet there are no signs of residential sites at Watson Brake. Anthropologists currently speculate that Watson Brake may have been a constructed site for a band or bands of hunter-gatherers to conglomerate, perhaps for ritual or ceremonial purposes.

Interestingly, Watson Brake seems to predate the Olmec civilization by almost 2,000 years. The Olmecs also erected "mounds," or earthen pyramids, thought to be the forerunners of later Mayan and Mexica (Aztec) stone pyramids. (Mounds, or pyramids, were also built in the Andes region of South America.) This leads me to wonder if these Watson Brake "moundbuilders" may have been related to Olmecs, perhaps their forebears who decided to travel farther south into southern Mexico and became the "mother culture" of the later Mayas and Aztecs. Or perhaps much of Native America descends from a common culture that began erecting pyramidal and other monumental structures as terrestrial representations of their view of the cosmos and spiritual beliefs.

More food for thought!


Nick said...

Welcome back!

The word "mound" suggests "pile of dirt". "Pyramid" sounds more gemoetrical.

Do Mississippian mounds have a pyramid-like geometrical structure.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

Yeah, many of the Mississippian mounds are in the shape of pyramids. Although there are some of different shapes, such as in the shape of snakes (Ohio) and birds (Louisiana). Interestingly, Olmecs also build pyramidal and bird-shaped mounds, making me wonder if there is a connection between Mississippian and Mesoamerican cultures. Interesting stuff!


Jason Oury said...

ever see this. Do you know the orientation of Watson Break, can't find any information? Is there a book I am missing?

Dave said...

Jason, there's no book that I know of on Watson Brake (yes, "Brake" is apparently the correct spelling). I mainly got this info by word of mouth and the Internet. It is on Wikipedia.


BB said...

Can it be visited?
Where is it?

Anonymous said...

Not sure if Watson Brake is open to visitors, but it is rather close to Poverty Point, which, as far as I know, can be visited by the public in northern Louisiana. I have yet to visit these sites myself, but I would definitely like to!

Unknown said...

Watson Brake is located off of Watson School Rd. West Monroe, LA. I am one of the handful of people that has actually seen it and known what it was. I also had the great privilege of a tour by Reesa Jones. Mrs. Reca Jones is the person who discovered the mounds. She is a part of the ULM Archeology Dept.
Unfortunately, the land ownership poses problems for anyone wanting to find Watson Brake. The state owns a portion of the land that the mounds are on, and a private land owner opertaes a hunting camp on the other section of land that the other part of the mounds are on. You have to literally tresspass to get to the state property, and it is a good idea to know where you are going (especially if you "aint from around these parts".) Reca Jones and others involved in the Archeology Dept. have been trying for years to buy the rest of the land for the state and for the Native American Louisiana Trail. The private land owner refuses to sell, but has agreed to protect the mounds.
As far as visiting the mounds, I wouldn't go during hunting season. Good luck :)

I would suggest you contact Mrs. Reca Jones through ULM. My email is